Ageing gracefully


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01 June 2024
Tom can't get enough of his Ninety : credit: © Tom Barnard
Tom introduces his Ninety as it nears its milestone 40th birthday – and the welcome tax exemption

Despite having had this Ninety hovering around in my life for six years I’ve never actually formally introduced it to these pages, possibly because I’m a little embarrassed about the lack of exercise it gets. But I can’t put it off any longer – here is B168 SFH and it’s one of my favourite things in the world.

One of Tom’s favourite things in the world

It came into my life via Barnard Senior. He had been making excuses to avoid collecting logs from a tree I’d chopped down in the garden, which was odd as he was usually straight into his Series IIA and trailer as soon as he heard the buzz of a chainsaw. Such is the way when you have a log burner to run on a pension.

When I started to get slightly irritated at the dissected conifer taking up one of my parking spaces, he explained that since turning 80 he was starting to have trouble with the stiff steering and weak brakes. He was nervous about negotiating my drive, especially with a loaded trailer.

Despite the bubbling on the door and scruffy paint...

​​​​​​I teased him a little about being a weakling before starting the search for a later Landy with power steering and a brake servo. He wanted the character of a classic but with some more manageable driving manners.

As it happened, I was in the LRM office the next day and saw a photo of B168 SFH sitting on top of an in-tray, paper-clipped to a letter. I had a peek and realised it was an advert ready to be posted in the classifieds section at the back of the mag. I immediately rang the number. “Does it have power steering? Yes? I’ll see you in a couple of hours.” comes up well with a polish and wax

I called my Dad, told him that I’d found his car and that if he didn’t buy it I would. A deal was done, and he loved it. My involvement for the next three years was little more than fixing the odd bit which was out of reach and trying to stop him modifying it. He didn’t want to install air-locking diffs or a two-foot lift, but he was keen to add LED work lamps and other unoriginal nasties to it. I winced, as the Ninety was amazingly original.

Then the lockdown came, and the car was locked down too. It sat for 18 months without being used and Dad discovered that a nice man (in a Defender tipper, obviously) would come and deliver logs for less than it cost to run the Land Rover.

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He offered it to me for the same price he had paid, on the understanding that if I sold it, we would split any profit. I don’t plan for him to be claiming any money from me for a long time, as it seems to occupy that perfect spot, being both useable and useful while still having enough character to make every journey an adventure.

The poor thing is scruffy but I’m loath to do anything about the paint. One of the front wings and the bonnet have clearly been resprayed at some point, but the rest is original and comes up well with a polish and wax. I’ve convinced myself that a little scrape and bubbling at the bottom of the doors is an excellent theft deterrent.

A local garage adjusted the carb and had it running like new

​​​​​​This month it’s had its final (as in legally required) MoT. Although I know this bizarre 40-year exemption is open to abuse, it will make a difference to me. I had the Ninety serviced last year by the guru-like Nick at Oak Tree Garage in Hertfordshire and the tweaks he did made it run like it had a new engine. It was smoother, started better and seemed to have twice the power. I then put it in for the MoT and it passed – but the tester said he’d had to tweak the carb to get the emissions within the limit. I shrugged, drove it home and soon realised it was back to its old laggardly self. I’ll now take it back to Nick and get it reset once and for all.

While I can just ignore the MoT from now on, getting the free road tax when the Ninety becomes 40-years old is more complicated. You have to wait for the April following your car’s birthday before you can apply, and it wasn’t registered until the middle of November.

If it was built before April, I could still apply in 2024, so I invested £50 in a Heritage Certificate so I could find out the build date. It arrived and lists all sort of interesting information, but it seems the new coil sprung models were in demand back then – it was made just three weeks before delivery.

Nothing like getting behind the wheel of a 1980s Ninety to put a smile on your face

That means I’ve got another year of paying tax. Since I’ve had custody, I’ve found myself putting the Ninety on SORN to save a few quid and then being reluctant to use it the following month as it will cost me £30 or so to put it on the road just for a couple of journeys. A Land Rover isn’t really the sort of car you put away for the winter either, as it goes to shows and meetings in summer and plays in the snow when it gets cold. It’s theoretically a seven-seater too, so occasionally gets press-ganged into action when a ‘normal’ car won’t do, although ladies who have spent hours getting ready for a night out look in horror at the straw-strewn rear seats.

Now the weather is warmer I’ll give it a thorough clean, polish and wax to protect that original paint and the decals. Then I’ll scramble underneath and top up the rustproofing and see if I fancy tackling the brake hose advisory from the last MoT myself. I suspect Guru Nick will be getting the job though – the potential for disaster is too high and he can reset the carburettor while he’s at it.


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